Why Teens Stop Reading and Why They Shouldn’t

Image courtesy of Pixabay.com

Image courtesy of Pixabay.com

Campbell Portland, Freelance Writer

The skill of being able to read and comprehend written text begins developing and being taught at age 4, with most kids being able to read simple sentences by the age of 6 or 7. Throughout elementary school and middle school vocabulary develops, complex sentence structures are introduced, and higher level texts are beginning to be comprehended. During these years of life children are encouraged by school teachers and parents to read for pleasure and develop an intimate relationship with literature on their own time. In high school and university, the focus turns to literary analysis, and language/literature classes tend to spend less time enforcing reading for pleasure and more time reading assigned, high quality, popular, and complex novels. Though literary analysis and standardized texts are important and crucial to academic success, teens should continue reading for pleasure into their young adult life because reading allows higher quality entertainment than electronics, helps develop communication skills and vocabulary, and sets students up to be lifelong learners.

In recent years, less than 20 percent of U.S. teens report reading a book, magazine or newspaper daily for pleasure, while more than 80 percent say they use social media every day, according to research published by the American Psychological Association. On the other hand, teens spend an average of 7 hours and 22 minutes a day on their phones and even preteens (ages 8-12) spend 4 hours and 44 minutes on their phones as reported by ABC news. Phones are known to damage the eyes and provide little to no educational value, since the most common apps used are social media and communication apps. Communication is important, but 7 and a half hours a day of staring at a small screen provides nothing but short term entertainment and an excuse to procrastinate. Reading, on the other hand, provides entertainment free of damaging blue-lights, and it is richer in content value. Instead of seeing endless posts about a new puppy or hairstyle, reading can provide insights into situations that are deeper and able to be connected to on a more personal level. Since reading acts as a more enriching activity than social media, teens should be encouraged to find time to continue reading for pleasure.

In addition to being higher quality entertainment than modern technology, reading helps develop communication skills and vocabulary. According to a long term study conducted by The Renaissance, it found that children who read 15–29 minutes per day, will encounter an average of 5.7 million words by their graduation. Researchers estimate students learn one new word of vocabulary for every thousand words read. Using this ratio, a student who reads for 15-29 minutes a day will learn 5,700 new vocabulary words from reading, while a student who reads for less than 15 minutes a day would learn 1,500 new vocabulary terms—more than three times less than the amount of vocabulary growth for an additional few minutes of reading per day. Along with an increased vocabulary, reading consistently increases communication skills through exposure to a multitude of scenarios and situations that involve complex emotions, circumstances, and means of communication that allow readers to learn strategies and what makes communication effective. Reading also increases empathy because books allow you to see situations that you have been through, but also situations that are happening in other people’s lives, making encounters with these situations less daunting. A 2013 study in the American Psychological Association’s journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts found that the process of imagining scenes while reading led to an increase in empathy and prosocial behavior. Being able to be empathetic and understanding a variety of situations, readers are able to connect with people more efficiently and be a better person in general. 

Though reading creates a more enriching experience than social media and increases vocabulary, communication, and empathy, perhaps the most important reason that reading should be sustained through high-school and beyond is that reading establishes the mindset of a lifelong learner. According to his brother, Elon Musk grew up reading two books a day, and Bill Gates reads 50 books per year. Mark Zuckerberg reads at least one book every two weeks. These “geniuses” all have steady reading habits, and though not everyone will be as famous as them someday, learning through reading is the single most important investment of your time. By reading, specifically non-fiction, from a young age, a foundation for knowledge is established, making learning in school easier and life beyond more understandable.

It is not expected that after hearing the benefits of reading that you will begin to read two books a day like Elon Musk did as a kid, but finding the time to squeeze in 10-20 minutes of reading a day of any type of book that you like sets the tone for all of the learning to occur in school, later education, and life outside the classroom.